“Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.”
On the other hand, if you were in a vacuum of space, you wouldn’t be screaming. You wouldn’t be breathing, so you couldn’t scream. You’d be a frozen, dead thing. A sweet treat icicle for some horrid alien.
“These are the thoughts that crossed the mind of Landrew, twelve years of age, as he hurtled through space.”
Wait, no. He wasn’t hurtling out there, alone. He and his family, in a nice safe spaceship, dubbed the SS Spock, built in Detroit, America, were hurtling through space. Only maybe hurtling wasn’t the right word, either.
He busily deleted what he’d written. It was all trite, or something. He began again, then sat up straight in his bunk and threw the w-pad across his tiny cabin in disgust at his ineptness. Ineptitude? Rats. He couldn’t even describe his frustration well. He scooted off the bunk and pushed himself to the floor, landing with expertise on the floor next to his grav-boots. Before he could float off, he got his right foot, and then his left, into the boots. He could have just floated around the ship, but if Mom saw him, she’d have a fit.
“You need to keep fit. You have to remember how to walk. If you float around all the time, you’ll forget how to walk when we get there.” Nobody ever mentioned where ‘there’ was.
As he stumbled, caught himself and then clunked his way out into the passageway, he wondered if Dad would accidentally let it slip, where they were headed. His slip of the tongue had to be sufficient to include a clue. He rounded the bend to the left, making his way to the galley. He was hungry, as he always was at this time of the Day-cycle, in between Meal Two and Meal Three. On Earth, they were called lunch and dinner, but since the sun was always shining on one side and some moon hung there on the other, those terms were silly. The family had voted to change to Meal numbers, until they got “there.”
His little sister, Keara, was in the galley, carefully cutting up some strawberries. At least, they resembled strawberries. The were probably pseudo-fruit of some kind, made to look like real fruit, with calories and minerals or vitamins or something. But not real. Not really real. He looked at his sister’s face, to see if there was a hint of a smile there, which would indicate that she would be amenable to sharing. Her pretty face was tightened up as she angled the blade across the fruit, cutting it just so. In a bowl, some slices of green apple—pseudo fruit—were floating.
“Hey, Sis. You must be extra hungry. Apple and strawberry, at the same time? Did Mom say it was okay?” Landrew angled his way to stand nearer to the bowl. In case she offered to share. He would never steal from his sister. Not while she held a knife. Her eyes slid over to the bowl. The knife in her little-girl hand was poised to draw across the fruit again. She seemed to be calculating her hunger against her desire for peace, for the time being. She went back to cutting the last piece, just so.
She shrugged magnanimously and said, “Okay. Take two bits of apple and three slices of strawberry.” When Landrew’s eyes widened in surprise at her generosity, she added, “Just don’t bother me until dinner, I mean, Meal Three, okay? I’m working on something.”
Landrew was torn between gratitude and immense curiosity. What was so important, anyway? But his stomach grumbled so he grabbed the top two apple slices and quickly counted out, “One, two three. Thanks, Sis!” and made his way back to his quarters.
He waited until he was sitting at his desk before he savored the apple slice. Dang, it sure tasted just like an apple. The way he remembered an apple from Earth. He finished that slice and decided to try the fake strawberry. It was so sweet! Juicy and sweet. He was careful to catch the drips before they got to his chin, licking carefully to capture the flavor. Did a strawberry ever taste this good on Earth? He couldn’t recall.
After he finished his snack, he licked his fingers clean, then wiped them dry on his track suit. It was dark blue, so the stains wouldn’t show. If there were stains. He couldn’t tell. He checked his fingers with his thumbs for signs of stickiness, then sighed in surrender to his ‘project’ and went to find his w-pad. He had to write more for his homework assignment. His mind turned that idea over once or twice. Why call it ‘homework’ when he never left home? They should call it ‘staywork’ or something.
Landrew’s mother would admonish him for letting his mind wander like that. He would start off well enough, pondering the work he should do, then his mind would flip over to rhetorical issues. He would ask “Why?” when he was supposed to be fixing something or writing something or cleaning up. Why clean up? It would only get messed up again, anyway. It was silly to change the mess from one day to the next. Why not just leave it? It would evolve on its own, right?
Another heavy sigh and he resolved to get back to his ‘homework’ assignment. He was to write something about his environment. When he looked out the porthole by his bunk, his eyes wandered around and landed on the ‘landscape’ out there.
“‘Space-scape’ is more like it.” He saw several moons scattered around some planet.
Dad would say, “Yet to be named,” meaning either they were lost, or he forgot the name. He often seemed like he was in a fog. Except when the subject was physics. Astrophysics, to be more accurate. Then he was crystal clear, sharp, and verbose. Landrew had just learned that word last week. Verbose. He hadn’t had a chance to use it, yet. Until today.
Landrew and Dad did spend quality time together, though. They would video-fish and Dad would tell Landrew about the time he (Dad) caught a big fish off the coast of…of…somewhere and how he (Landrew) caught a little fish the same day and won a prize for being the youngest fisherman. Then he would promise that they would go ‘for-real’ fishing when they got there. And he would point vaguely out the nearest porthole.
Landrew had once asked, “Who’s driving this thing?”
Mom had answered, “We’re on Auto-Pilot, and it knows how to dodge meteor showers, and such, and keep us safe, ‘til we get there!”
When he asked where the Auto-Pilot was located, Mom and Dad exchanged knowing looks and laughed. Then they told him to go to bed.
Landrew, in his cabin, was having trouble focusing on his work. Space was out there all the time, every minute. Every hour. All day and all the days he could remember. At dinner—Meal Three—they would sit around the table, eating and talking. The food was okay—not as good as the fruit he had today, but okay. The conversation was often fun. Dad would brag about fishing or hunting or football. He would remind Landrew to remind him to teach him how to ‘launch a missile’, meaning throw the ball, Landrew guessed, and get in some target practice. Landrew guessed he meant shooting at a target. Although he did have a game that included shooting an arrow with precision. It was too easy for him, now, so he didn’t play it anymore. He should look it up.
Oh, shoot! Back to the business at hand, Drew. He liked to be called Drew, he decided. He would take it up with the family during Meal Three. How soon was that?
Just then, the Com-Link buzzed, or booped or sounded. Mom’s voice came out, loud and clear, “Come and get it! Before I feed it to the chickens.” And she closed her Com-Link. It was funny because they didn’t have any chickens. Mom thought there would be chickens, or something closely resembling chickens, when they got ‘there’.
Whoever she intended to give his dinner, he vowed he would get it first. He did his best to bound out of the door and into the passageway, rounding the turn to the left, where the mess hall sat, next to the galley. He thought he smelled roast beef as he neared the entry. He saw the table was set more elegantly than usual, with Glo-candles giving off flickering light. Metal rings kept the napkins in place, with more clips holding the plates and goblets in place. The flatware was wrapped in with the napkins. The table was covered in white to match the napkins. The dishes were white, edged in gold. These were Landrew’s favorite dishes. He didn’t know why he was so attracted to the gold and white décor, but he was.
Keara was already seated, fiddling with something on her lap. She had a silly grin on her face, which made Landrew wonder if what was in her lap was the project she had worked on all afternoon. She did not look up when her brother entered. She just kept smiling at something, while she sat in her corner of the mess hall. Landrew headed toward her to investigate, but Mom came rushing in with two plates, steaming and fragrant. As she put the bigger platter down, he confirmed his premonition; it was beef roast, Roast of Beef. The smaller dish was a large bowl of peeled, boiled potatoes, drizzled with melted butter, salt and parsley. Landrew liked the butter, didn’t mind the salt, but avoided any parsley. If Mom insisted, he would wait until she looked away and wrap it up in his napkin for later disposal. Yuck. He would rather be an icy treat for a disgusting alien than eat parsley.
“Take off the grav-boots and sit down, now, Landrew. Dad will be along in just a moment. Let me get the biscuits.” And she dashed back into the galley.
“Boy, Sis. You got off easy. She didn’t make you help serve?” Landrew wanted to know what she was doing over there. Did she have an animal of some sort? He was nearly overcome by curiosity and was about to risk the Wrath of Mommy when Dad came in, also at a dash. That forced him to sit in his place, across from Keara, too far to see what she held in her lap.
Cheerfully, Dad asked Keara, “Well, Princess! How are you getting along over there?”
Keara smiled beatifically at her father. “Fine, Dad. How are you?” And she went back to staring at the thing.
Dad removed his napkin and placed it in his lap. “I turned up the gravity in here, so we don’t make a mess like last time. Remember that? And Mom was serving gravy!” He said ‘gravy’ like it was the most outrageous thing he could imagine. Then he chuckled.
Dad chuckled in chapters. First, it was a ‘hee-hee’ sort of a thing. Then he got started, like an old-time motor that needed revving up. ‘Hee-huhh. Hee-huhh.’ Landrew had watched a video of an old, old car, starting up. Then like he was being tickled, he’d release the noise, “Ha-ha-ha-ha.” He’d stop to breathe in and maybe would start all over again, if it was really, truly funny.
Mom came in, bearing a silver basket, filled with golden brown rolls, fresh from the Mic-Of, a smaller bowl filled with butter in the shape of seashells, and a plate with a careful stack of asparagus. Carefully, she placed the basket onto the table, testing the gravity level. It stayed in place, barely. The butter dish required a clip.
Unlike his reaction to parsley, Landrew loved asparagus. It didn’t float away like peas did. Peas were okay, but they had to be ‘corralled’, as Dad put it. In low-grav, it was fun to let them loose and chase them around the mess hall, but only when Mom wasn’t around. She hated to find old, cold peas that had missed the roundup.
The whole scene was fancy, with the good plates and linens and the best foods. What was the occasion? Landrew struggled to remember what the Earth calendar had read this morning. A birthday? Anniversary? Graduation? No, he wasn’t due to graduate to university until after Christmas. He was behind. Mostly in writing. He was caught up or ahead in some subjects. Writing was his nemesis! There was nothing in the environment to write about and so his mind would reach out and hook onto some other thought, idea, or complaint (WHY?).
Mom had removed her apron and moved to her chair. Dad leaped out of his chair, hurried to her side, and held on to her chair while she sat, then helped her settle in at the table. Very weird. She smiled up at him as if he had re-invented solar energy or something. He smiled at her as if she had just performed a miracle. It was just food, for cripe’s sake.
Dad shot him a direct look as he passed him on his way back to his seat. Landrew didn’t know what any of this was about, but he sat up straighter and carefully laid his napkin in his lap just in case he’d done something wrong. He looked at his sister to see if she was as confused as he, but she was only smiling at her lap. That same smile Mom had smiled to Dad. It had a glow to it, like their whole faces smiled. Landrew began to question if he was in sleep mode. His dreams were never this normal looking, with a whole room and people he recognized. He remembered seeing an old film that said, you can tell if you’re dreaming, because you can’t read in a dream. The words and letters will swim and dissolve. He’d tried it a couple of times and he’d found it to be accurate. He scanned the mess hall for something to read, but no luck. There were pictures on the view screen that changed, but none of them had words on them.
Dad was back in his chair and folded his hands for the meal prayer. Dad would put his elbows on the edge of the table, fold his hands together and lean his head in. Mom always subtly folded her hands in her lap, as did Keara. Landrew placed his arms flat on the edge of the table and folded his hands together, resting his chin on his knuckles.
“Oh, Lord,” Dad began.
And all Hell broke loose. The shriek of the alarms was nearly deafening. Dad looked at Mom, stupidly wide-eyed. Then his shock turned to thrill, and he knocked over his chair in his rush to leave the mess hall. Mom was half out of her chair the next moment, managing to be heard above—or maybe below—the scream of the alarm, “You kids stay here!” and she threw herself into the passageway, using the grab bars to navigate away. Landrew was inundated with reactions. First was how loud this alarm was. He didn’t think he’d ever heard such a loud alarm. Ever. Next, Mom was using the grab bars instead of donning the grav-boots. This, whatever it was, must be big. Then, he looked to his sister, for her reaction. She held the blanket to her chest and her face was scrunched up like she was in pain.
“Hold your ears!” He demonstrated for her. It didn’t really help, but it was all he could think of. Thinking was very hard to do right now. Just react.
Keara did not cover her ears, but she cupped her left hand around the blanket, near her right shoulder.
Landrew drew a breath to call out to her again, just as the shrieking alarm stopped. Rather than silence, there was a buzzing in his ears, and another sound, wailing. That time he got his butt stuck in the vac-u-lav, he made that noise. It was coming from Keara’s blanket, he thought. The after-buzz was making him dizzy. As the buzz died down, he confirmed the wail was coming from the blanket. Shakily he stood to go to his sister when Mom came flying in, landing with a gentle thud into the near-normal gravity of the mess hall.
“Kids, we’re almost there! We are only a few cycles away! You can come see now if you want.” She winked—actually winked-- at Landrew before sailing back down the passageway.
The wailing in the blanket had stopped, and Keara rose to follow Mom, only she stopped to put on her grav-boots. Whatever was in that blanket prevented her from using the grab bars.
Landrew couldn’t wait for his sister. This discovery was way bigger than whatever she had going on. He leaped into the passageway with such thrust that he banged into the wall and bounced to the other side. Meanwhile, Keara was making her way ahead of him, doing her best to run in her boots. Landrew grunted in disgust at his ineptitude—now he was sure that was a word—and when he almost slammed into the opposite side again, he got a grip on a bar and righted himself, sailing right over Keara’s head.
He arrived at the front of the Spock and took in the view. Dad and Mom were at consoles, tapping away. Beyond them was the viewing window, open to reveal an ocean of space. Normally there was a solid shield over the window to protect it from space debris and small meteors. Now it was fully opened to reveal the true majesty of the universe. Landrew gazed in wonderment at it as he floated toward it.
“Stay behind the banister, Buddy,” Dad reminded him. Too much space glow.”
Through the haze of his amazement, Landrew heard and obeyed. He grabbed the rail with his foot and bent to hold himself back, his eyes never leaving the view. There was sunlight shining in from his left, illuminating the view, highlighting the backside of the moons on the left and right of him. Directly in front of him was open, like a corridor, past the little moons, leading to…?
“Are we there yet?” Landrew wondered which moon they were headed for, because they all looked a little small to him. He calculated they would not have enough gravity to be stable for them. He assessed, as best as he could, the signs of water that was so essential for life and could find none. These moons seemed too puny.
“Just hold your horses, Buddy. It’s the little spot way out there, directly in front of us. See that little blue dot? We think that’s it.” Dad was hunched over his console, punching buttons and reading screens with enthusiasm.
“What Dad means,” Mom interjected as she, too punched and read, “what he means is this is it. We’ll be there soon. Maybe fifteen or twenty cycles.” She checked a screen. “Actually, we shall arrive in eighteen cycles.” She smiled at Landrew. A sweet, happy smile.
“We have a lot to do before then.” Dad stopped paying so much attention to the console and stood straighter.
Mom turned away from her station and urged Keara to approach her. “We have preparations to make. We’ve got to pack!” This she said with such glee that Landrew pulled himself away from his study of the tiny blue dot. Mom’s voice was different. Lighter, younger. Relieved of a burden.
Dad turned to Mom and Keara. Somewhat solemnly he said, “We have to talk.”
“Yes.” Mom agreed.
The Blue Blanket squirmed and made a gurgling noise. Keara and Mom giggled.
Landrew demanded to know, “Say, what have you got there?” He quickly navigated over the consoles to Mom, who reached out to help him come to floor level. He peered into the blanket, folding back the edge. Keara released her tight hold to let Landrew meet the new family member.
“Mom made it for me. Isn’t she precious? Mom said she used to have one when she was a girl on Earth. She was going to get one for me when I was old enough, but then we left to come here, so we had to wait. Now we have a…a…cat?”
“No, Keara. It’s a dog!” Landrew spoke with the authority of an older brother. “Right?” He looked at Mom for confirmation.
“It’s a puppy, yes. A beautiful black Labrador, like I had as a girl. It’s as close as I remember, and I remember Blackie. It’s my cherished…memory.”
The next few cycles were busy. There was much to do to prepare for landing this ship. Dad trained Landrew to do many of the maneuvers. They packed and re-packed the holds to create balance as they landed in gravity. Mom and Keara worked in the galley and the gardens, packing seeds and seedlings for planting in their new home. And there were breaktimes to play with Blackie the Second, or B2 for short.
Dad and Landrew discussed their new home on a new planet.
“Dad, how do we know it’s just us? What if there are already people there? What if they’re not human? There could be aliens there, Dad!”
“When you stop and take a breath, I’ll tell you that we have done distant scans for months and it looks like it has great bodies of water, some vegetation, oxygen-rich atmosphere, and no sign of organized inhabitants. There may be animals, but nothing to be very afraid of. We’ll be fine.”
“Rats. I was hoping there might be other humanoids for me to play with, you know? Friends? I had friends back on Earth, didn’t I?”
“Sure, Buddy. Of course. I’ll let you in on a little secret. There are others who are looking for this place. Our friends and colleagues from Earth. We’ll sound the bells to announce we found a place. We’re the first.” Dad was clearly excited.
“Others? Why didn’t you tell me? I could have made friends on other ships.” Landrew was fuming.
“No, Buddy. Sorry. Communication is difficult. No casual conversations. It takes a lot of energy to send messages. We only communicate briefly and rarely. This will be worth the effort, though. We must signal to the others. Great day!” And with that, Dad dashed off to another task.
Landrew went to his quarters to play with B2. It was his turn. Then it occurred to him that since their new planet was to replace Earth, why not call it E2? B2 was the second version of Mom’s dog, Blackie. Their new second version of Earth could be E2. At least until they could decide on a better name. He grabbed B2, slipped into his grav-boots and headed for the galley. He would make his proposal to Mom and Keara.
Dad was already there, getting some food from Mom. He looked over at Landrew and said, “I’m glad you’re here. We need to have a talk. I’ve sent off the eureka announcement to the sister ships. I’ve no idea how long it will take for them to receive it. It’s actually possible they have found planets, too, and their ‘eureka’ messages will cross ours in passing. Then we’ll have to decide what to do next.” He smiled cheerfully.
Mom cleared her throat gently. “There is something else we should cover. When we meet up with our companion ships, you will meet lots of different people. And when you start to share…when you want to share a memory, you may find that some memories don’t quite match. That sort of thing happens, I think. I think it happens like that all the time, on Earth. Some children may say that they remember you, but you don’t remember them. That’s okay. That happens. We have been travelling a long time, you know. Since you were little, Landrew. And Keara was even younger.”
Landrew narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Go ahead, Mom. Just tell us. We’re old enough. What is it that you haven’t told us?”
Mom drew in a deep, deep breath. This was big. “Landrew, you and Keara were not born on Earth. That’s it. I’m sorry to tell you, but there it is.” She sat in a chair and wrapped one foot around the leg to hold herself in place. She did this without thinking, as if she’s done it her entire life.
Landrew’s eyes grew wide, trying to take it in. “I always felt like I’d been here forever. I thought I was exaggerating.” He looked down at B2, petting her.
Keara came over to him and began to pet B2. “I’ll never lie to you, B2. You’ll always know where you came from.” She turned to Mom. “But how come I remember Earth? I really remember the sun on my face and a breeze fluttering leaves on the trees. I remember swinging outside—how?”
Mom gestured for Keara to come to her. She sat her on her lap. “The garden has trees. The gravity there helps the plants grow properly. I would swing you around, giving you a breeze. It was like a game for you when you were little.” Mom paused and looked at the floor. “It was the same for me.” She looked at Dad, pleading for him to take over.
“Kids. You weren’t born on Earth. Neither were we.” Dad sounded regretful. The kids’ eyes were affixed to him. “You were ship-born. Mom and I were ship-born. There have been four generations of ship-born people on the USS Spock.” His eyes went to Landrew. “I know we always told you, you named this ship ‘Spock’, for your favorite fictional character. That’s what they told me, and the one before and the one before. Using DNA selection and sperm manipulation, one male and one female were born and they in turn created one each, to be the mom and dad.” Dad paused and looked at Mom.
She continued the explanation. “They brought us up, filling us with memories, including us until we began to think they were our own memories. Then, when Dad was twenty and I was eighteen, they told us the truth. I’m sorry you don’t get more time to be a kid with happy childhood memories, but we’ll be landing soon, and we must believe the others will be here, too. There will be chances for more random DNA combinations.”
Keara, with tears spilling onto her cheeks, asked, “Why?”
Dad leaned down to wipe her tears. “Honey, I guess they wanted to live forever and they wanted to capture themselves in their memories. It sort of worked. I kept these memories going for so long, I believed them. After we had you and your brother, the mission became formal, and we disconnected from belief. It became a job. Our forefathers thought it would bring comfort to believe we were born on Earth, with a clear plan, rather than roaming through space.” He stood up. There were tears in his eyes. “I guess we made it. We’re ‘there’ now, Buddy.”
Back in his quarters, B2 napped next to Landrew on the bunk. His gaze was fixed on a cluster of stars, far off. He decided he would go there, some day. He would be an explorer for the rest of his life, searching for new homes for anyone who wanted one.
He opened his w-pad to begin his writing assignment. First, he must finish university. Then he could become an explorer.
“Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.”
About the Creator
Actor, writer, voice-over artist, teacher, author, mother and Grammy of 4. I've done a lot. I grew up in Bolivia, Laos and Taiwan. Married 25 years, widowed. Please read my stuff and leave a comment! Thanks.